Essential Viewing: Diary for David Holzman Part 2: Getting to the “Real” Stuff

Part TWO of a two-part video series on David Holzman’s Diary and its impact on documentaries, reality TV shows, mockumentaries and YouTube video diaries.


Monday, May 30, 2011.

David Holzman’s Diary uses several modes of filming, but generally they fall into three categories: David’s direct address to the camera, where he reports on his plans, activities and feelings.  Scenes out on the street; and encounters and interactions with others.  The street scenes have a weird progression – first he just seems interested in capturing life in all its raw detail – but gradually he fixates on filming women, one on the street and across from his apartment.

Holzman’s doesn’t seem to realize it, but his project of filming the truth behind his life is as much about getting at the mystery of women. When he talks about his girlfriend Penny, he does it in terms of images – and the only scenes where she appears involve his filming her.  When he inevitably breaks up with Penny, he doesn’t seem very disturbed, not nearly as much as he is in a scene where he yells at his camera as if it were his partner in a dead-end relationship.

But the most spontaneous, unscripted and live scene in the film involves an encounter with a pre-op transsexual who randomly pulls up to David on the street.  Kit Carson was allegedly so intimidated by her that he couldn’t stay in character, leaving the cameraman to act as David. It’s an interesting reversal – whereas all the other women retreat from David’s camera, here someone directs her female libidinal desire at full force – and David the character chooses to retreat. He’d much prefer to watch.

In hindsight, this scene seals David’s fate – from here on out, he doesn’t really engage with anyone. He becomes increasingly trapped in his own world, even as he continues to take his camera to the street, as if it were a shield or an invisible cloak. The images he captures are increasingly a reflection of his self-absorption. And in one scene, the connection between his filmmaking and his sexuality is made plain. these days, so much of David’s voyeuristic libido could now be satisfied on the internet with no risk at all. Or would David reject those virtual outlets precisely because they are available for him to consume safely?  It isn’t enough for him to just watch, but to take what he finds beautiful and make it his own, the artistic impulse at its basest.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011:

I’m visiting the old shooting locations of David Holzman’s Diary on the upper west side, and this is Needle Park, where I’m attempting to recapture Michael Waldleigh’s long handheld shot.

This shot just doesn’t have the same effect with an iPhone camera. Part of it is that the benches are now spaced out, you don’t get the same effect of people squeezed together side by side. Personal space has a different meaning than it used to, in the physical world as well as the virtual. And part of it is the fact that I can approximate Waldleigh’s shot, something that took him a lot of effort and planning, simply with a smartphone.  Images are cheap and easy these days. What’s to separate one from another, except for to understand how and why they are made? David Holzman’s Diary will always be the first of its kind, and it will always last, as long as we can understand the effort, the thought, and the emotions behind a world of images.

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